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Mr. Dalyell: Before the Foreign Secretary leaves the United States, is he minded, before the recess, to accede to the request made to him by the Lockerbie relatives that there should be a public inquiry into the international aspects of Lockerbie?
Mr. Straw: I explained to the Lockerbie relatives that I did not see a case for a public inquiry into what had happened, but that I was going to look into whether other arrangements for scrutiny could be established. I realise that my hon. Friend put a number of detailed questions while I was away from the Chamber and I shall write to him in response to them.
I welcome the recognition given in the Committee's report to the work of the agencies in protecting national security and economic well-being and in tackling the threat of organised crime. I also pay tribute to all the individuals who work for the agencies for their esprit de corps and courage. I have met many of them during the past five years, and they are very dedicated people who are not able to seek public or even semi-private social endorsement for the work that they do.
Several right hon. and hon. Membersincluding the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)have raised the issue of the appointment of Sir David Omand as the security and intelligence co-ordinator and permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office.
As the House knows, Sir David Omand has huge experience in relation to intelligence and security. He was my permanent secretary at the Home Office, until he had to step down from that position when he got lymphatic cancer at Christmas 2000. It is a tribute to his tenacity, as well as to the treatment that he received in the national health service, that he has made a full recovery and has been appointed to his new post. He will bring singular qualities to his position. He will act as the accounting officer for the single intelligence account. He will be the chairman of the permanent secretaries committee on the intelligence services and of the official committee on security, both of which meet regularly. He is also chairman of the Civil Contingencies Committee and has oversight of the civil contingencies secretariat.
One of Sir David's many experiences was of being responsible for civil contingencies when we were at the Home Office. That included dealing with the hijacked Afghan aeroplane that landed in February 2000, and the fuel dispute, both of which he and I will remember in almost every particular.
Mr. Arbuthnot: I am worried because I agree with absolutely everything that the right hon. Gentleman has said so far, particularly his tribute to Sir David Omand. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that scrutiny of the intelligence and security services would be strengthened even more if the ministerial committee were to meet? Will he prevail on the Prime Minister to cause that to happen?
Mr. Straw: I wanted to deal with that issue later, as several right hon. and hon. Members have raised itincluding my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes)but let me do so now. Formal meetings of such committees is a matter for the Prime Minister, but I want no hon. Member to get the idea that the Ministers concerned do not meet regularly, particularly my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, myself and the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister. At one stage, post 11 September, such meetings took place two or three times a week, so there is a lot of co-ordination at ministerial and official levels.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey asked whether the current split between the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service should continue, and other hon. Members asked whether the split between Customs and Excise and the immigration service should continue. I simply say that the exact organisation of our security and law enforcement agencies nationally is kept under review. My instinct is that the first test should always be, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", and a huge amount of time and cost can be wasted in reorganisation, but if a case can be made for it, it should be considered. I certainly recognisedalthough it is now much more a matter for the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequerthat there was a strong case for better co-ordination and for joint operations between, for example, customs and the immigration service.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey asked me about secure communications. We are taking active steps, about which I am happy to brief him and other hon. Members outside the House, to improve the availability and usefulness of secure communications.
Interwoven in several contributions have been comments about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and amendments made two years later by the Home Secretary. There was an interesting exposition by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), the shadow Home Secretary, which led to him suggesthimself in the end, with a bit of prompting from othersthat he was a tortured liberal.
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), who is as good a socialist as ever I have met, and who also happens to be my Parliamentary Private Secretary and therefore has no need to protest his liberality, says that all liberals should be tortured. However, there is a serious point here.
Of course we have to secure a balance between law enforcement and civil liberties; that is what this place is for. However, listening, as I have done in the past 13 months, to some comments about the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Home Secretary's subsequent provisions, I have sometimes thought that I was in a different world from everyone else, because it is worth placing on the record the fact that RIPA and the subsequent measures were introduced not to strengthen the hands of law enforcement agencies but rather to regulate them more effectively.
I take for example one area of regulationthat of the availability and usefulness of call data. By that I mean not the contents of telephone calls but data showing who has called who and when. That information is very important for law enforcement agencies. I first became aware that that had not been the subject of statutory regulation during a debate on the 1996 Police Bill, when my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) intervened on the remarks that I was making from the Opposition Front Bench to ask whether that was a gap in the law. I had not been aware of that before. I said that yes, it was,
The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling raised the issue of whether there should be a Select Committee in place of the present statutory Committee. I have always saidI made it clear to the Committee previouslythat I am open-minded on the matter. If there were a Select Committee, it would have to report in a similar way to the present Committeeit is a great tribute to the Committee that it operates, as it were, as a Select Committeebut I understand the importance of Parliament's having Select Committees to do this work and I consider that we need to keep the matter under particular review.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) asked who had the lead responsibility in respect of security in Northern Ireland. The answer is that because of the special situation in Northern Ireland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland has that lead, although obviously it works in close collaboration with the other security and intelligence agencies.
Mr. Beith: I wanted to intervene earlier because I was not sure that the right hon. Gentleman had fully conceded or recognised how dependent this new arrangement between the Cabinet Secretary and Sir David Omand is on the quality of Sir David. If he had not been available for the position, it is very questionable whether it would have been right to transfer responsibility for the intelligence agencies from the Cabinet Secretary, who plays such a vital role. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that, some time in the future, when new personalities become involved, we might have to look at the matter again.